It's a perennial dilemma: No sooner do we emerge from the cocoon of puffy down jackets than do we start dreading the unveiling of our pale calves and rounder winter frames.
This isn't us being trite. Building a wardrobe that's appropriate for the office and the warmer weather isn't just a matter of style. It's also an economic issue, and one that disproportionately affects women. Last year, the New York City Department of Consumer Affairs conducted a survey comparing the male and female versions of nearly 800 products and found that on average, women's clothing cost 8 percent more than men's for similar items.
If you want to enjoy getting dressed for work this spring — but the steep "gender tax" is part of the reason you can't be bothered care whether the maxi dress is in or out this year — designer Rachel Roy's “Design Your Life: Creating Success Through Personal Style," (out March 15) will speak to you. Known for styling the likes of Michelle Obama and Rihanna, Roy is more concerned with following her style intuition than the the latest trends.
"For me, design and style greatly influences how I feel," says Roy, who counts Cary Grant among her style icons.
In "Design Your Life," Roy offers practical advice to women who want to cultivate their personal style, and boost their confidence in the process. She gifted us five tips for dressing up for work — and showing up for your life.
Sharpen your style vision
Revitalizing your work wardrobe starts on the page, says Roy. As a child growing up in a low-income neighborhood, she often drew the clothes and accessories she desired — and eventually came to design. Curating a vision board can help you "realize what you are trying to call into your life," says Roy.
“There doesn’t have to be any rhyme or reason [to the board]; you don’t have to be a creative person per se. You just pull out what you’re drawn to. It can simply be colors, or if you’re feeling motivated by certain words — the sunset, whatever it is you love — and are going toward, that’s what should be on the board,” she explains.
Once you start collecting images, you’ll begin to notice patterns and connections on your board. “When you see that every morning, it’s nothing more than a reminder, but what happens is you do it. It’s that simple.”
Don’t follow trends — take the lead on them
If trends like high-waisted jeans or bold patterns don’t speak to you, Roy has a simple suggestion: “I don’t think that women should buy must-haves based on trends,” she says. “I don’t think you put rules on yourself, other than, ‘I wore this shape and it made me feel really bad about myself, I’m not doing it again.’
Instead of hunting down the latest fads, seek out your personal “must-haves” — the wardrobe pieces that make you feel strong, confident and most like yourself. For Roy, it’s all about trench dresses and blazers. The trench “instantly polishes you up, and is flattering on the body. Yet at the same time there’s a strength you have in your look,” says Roy. Blazers can add shape to any outfit, and many women gravitate toward them to provide “the structure and the bones, so to speak, of an outfit.”
Want to incorporate a trend into your outfit? Roy suggests trying out a new spring lip or nail color.
Invest in your frame
Growing up, Roy owned one pair of knockoff tennis shoes at a time. The day she bought her first pair of Manolo Blahniks was epic. “I waited for shoes to go on sale, and I waited for Manolo Blahniks in particular, and the quality is just so superb,” says Roy.
Outside of the fashion industry, most “civilians” can’t afford a complete high-end wardrobe, but there are certain pieces worth investing in, says Roy.
“After shoes, for me it would be a handbag, or a watch. So again, [wardrobe staples] refers to how are you framing yourself. The shoes, the handbag, and then the watch, in that order. When you can start gifting yourself those pieces, then they last, and you can have fun with everything else.”
Show up for work
This might seem tangential to building a work wardrobe, but making sure you “show up and you participate” at the office is the cornerstone of Roy’s style philosophy. Because standards vary drastically from industry to industry, Roy doesn’t believe in hard and fast rules like "you must wear a turtleneck with this blazer and a pair of oxfords." She does, however, say that part of getting dressed is about putting in the effort — whevever you work.
“You must make the effort to show that you are grateful, thankful and respectful for the opportunity that you’ve been given. There’s many places in the world where people can’t find work or aren’t allowed to work. Coming from the daugher of an immigrant father, I take very seriously the opportunity to work, says Roy. "With that said, I like to give women easy options to get there."
Don’t underestimate the power of your style selections
Roy reminds us that what we wear is important — but perhaps not for the reasons we might think.
“When I got into fashion years ago, for some reason people did not want to correlate what you put on your body with what you feel. It was made to kind of be vain, even,” says Roy. "For me, putting on a beautiful dress or a well-fitted blazer makes me realize what’s beautiful about life. When you put something on and you feel better about yourself, you stand up a little taller, you sit up a little straighter, you’re treating people nicer…. the fact that that can start with a dress, or a jacket, I think that’s a wonderful thing.”